"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Winter Crocuses and a Daffodil; Red Leaves and Buds; Some Things From Around the House, with Faces

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“Crocuses flower about Valentine’s Day, just when we need a reminder that winter is over and we really do love one another after all. ‘Krokos’ was the Greek name for the autumn-flowering saffron crocus, which has been cultivated from antiquity, but which hardly anyone grows today. The nicest legend about its origin is of Zeus and Hera making love so passionately that the heat of their ardor made the bank on which they lay burst open with crocuses.

“The first spring crocuses were sent to England from France by Jean Robin, curator of the Jardin du Roi in Paris. John Gerard’s famous Herball describes the ‘wilde or Spring Saffron’ as a novelty compared to the ‘best-knowne’ saffron. Saffron crocuses are pale purple, and Gerard talks about the new colors of white and a ‘perfect shining yellow colour, seeming a far off to be a hot glowing cole of fire.’

Saffron was always a valuable crop. Measured ounce for ounce it was often more valuable than gold; it takes four thousand stigmas to make just one ounce of saffron. In the Middle Ages it was sometimes used instead of real gold leaf to illuminate missals. The rich used it for flavoring food (the poor had to make do with calendula petals), and it was also thought to be ‘good for the head.'”

Photographically speaking, my February image-making is off to a pretty slow start, with the weather not cooperating with my plans to wander the neighborhood camera-in-hand. I’ll admit to some rare days of actual boredom last week, while rainstorms from the same weather system that dropped tons of snow farther north continued for several days, followed by freezy-breezy afternoons with very little sunlight and temperatures barely creeping into the thirties. Me and my camera don’t mind the cold that much; but all that rain dampened the enthusiasm right out of us.

Granted I could have done productive indoor-stuff like my income taxes or organizing some cabinets and closets or getting a jump on spring cleaning … but, nah, instead I read a bunch of online articles about taking pictures of ordinary things at home, and armed with new knowledge decided on a photo-shoot with an indoor theme: Things Around the House with Faces. There are surprisingly large numbers of things with faces around my house, but, alas, I even got a little restless about that and stopped after five photos (or maybe I’m just saving some subjects for the next week of soaking rain).

Here they are, five face-based photos, irreverently captioned.

Victorian Angel Knocker on a Yellow Wall
Between Two Framed Pictures in a Hallway on a Rainy Day

The Rare Golden Bibliocorn

Watchmen Understudy, At Rest, Between Takes

Frog King Au Naturel (NSFW! … oh, sorry, too late!)

Lizard and Pestle

When the weather finally cleared and the temperatures modulated, I got to go outdoors again (which is where I belong, dammit!) for one of my color-hunting excursions. Despite much of the landscape steeped in brown, gray, and monochrome, I found these tiny crocuses sneaking out of the ground…

… and converted three of their photos to black-backgrounders…

… and stumbled across this sole daffodil seeking sunlight from behind a concrete barrier…

… found these bright red leaves of unknown botanical lineage…

… and surprised myself by getting decent photos of these tiny red buds from twenty feet away with a 300-millimeter zoom setting.

There were a few other plants just barely in bloom — those photos I’m still working on — which I’ll finish up and post over the next few days.

Thanks for taking a look!

Winter Color at January’s End (2 of 2)

From “Nature” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“[The] simple perception of natural forms is a delight. The influence of the forms and actions in nature is so needful to man, that, in its lowest functions, it seems to lie on the confines of commodity and beauty. To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone….

“[Nature] satisfies by its loveliness, and without any mixture of corporeal benefit. I see the spectacle of morning from the hilltop over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share….

“Not less excellent, except for our less susceptibility in the afternoon, was the charm, last evening, of a January sunset. The western clouds divided and subdivided themselves into pink flakes modulated with tints of unspeakable softness, and the air had so much life and sweetness that it was a pain to come within doors…. The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background, and the stars of the dead calices of flowers, and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost, contribute something to the mute music.”

“The simple perception of natural forms is a delight.” — very true, isn’t it? This is, I think, one of the main reasons I return again and again to photographing plants, flowers, and trees: these subjects give back so much in terms of contemplation of their shapes and colors, and the acts of searching, finding, and photographing them always puts me in a kind of creative flow that pretty much blots out anything else going on or on my mind. And there’s something else that I didn’t appreciate until I spent so much time over the past few years learning post-processing tools like Lightroom: at their best, such tools not only extend the creative act but also enhance the experience of studying natural forms in close-up detail.

It’s not unusual for me to return from a photoshoot with three hundred photographs, and — since my general rule is to expect to keep only about ten percent of what I shoot — the work (it’s not really work) of whittling down to thirty or forty images means I spend a lot of time examining structure, noticing how light strikes different shapes, textures, and colors, and figuring out which ones will satisfy me the most as I alter them in development. One of the most time-consuming post-processing tasks — spot removal — often feels like drudgery but can still be fascinating as I try to match patterns and colors from one section of a leaf, petal, or branch to another, while reducing the appearance of damage or blight.

For this post, I picked five photos from the previous post (see Winter Color at January’s End (1 of 2)), and created three variations. For the first gallery below, I painted the backgrounds black (as I often do); then, for the second gallery, converted those same photos to black-and-white (with a bit of silver-blue toning). For the third gallery, I took the five color photos from the first gallery and created soft, glowy versions — for no reason other than I wanted to see if I could use Lightroom’s local adjustments (mainly radial filters in this case) to create effects similar to the soft-focus filters available in the Nik Collection. The results were perhaps not unsuccessful! 🙂

The last photo is of an airplane and its contrail — and came about when I was experimenting with the 100-300mm lens I wrote about previously, just taking pictures of clouds on a blue-sky winter day. It was the only one that I liked and kept; all the rest were blurry since I wasn’t used to the lens yet. If the image looks a little mottled to you (since WordPress reduces the overall quality when resizing thumbnails for galleries), try this full-sized version where the sky should be a nice, smooth light blue.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Bye January!

Winter Color at January’s End (1 of 2)

From “Nature” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“The inhabitants of cities suppose that the country landscape is pleasant only half the year. I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer….

“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again. The heavens change every moment, and reflect their glory or gloom on the plains beneath.”

From “Wild Peaches” by Elinor Wylie in Three Centuries of American Poetry edited by Allen Mandelbaum and Robert D. Richardson:

“The spring begins before the winter’s over.”

As we approach the end of January, I’ve posted a few photos taken during the unseasonably warm first half of the month (the unseasonable warmness didn’t last), where I found surprising bits of color among the more muted tones of winter.

The mahonia (in the second gallery below) was a striking mix of winter and spring, with yellow flower clusters growing among green leaves, surrounded by other leaves that apparently felt the cold more and had turned deep purple. I also found a rare pair of yellow daffodils, looking a little tentative but nevertheless quite adorable in their willingness to sneak out of the ground this time of year. And the two roses — southern roses are pretty resilient — seemed unaware that a cold snap was on the way, even though their stems were mottled and faded as they tend to get when the nights are cool. I guess they might have been thinking that winter was just an illusion….

Thanks for taking a look!

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